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RISMEDIA, March 3, 2009-As a result of a settlement between the U.S. Department of Justice and the National Association of Realtors®, brokers now have a powerful new marketing tool at their fingertips. Brokers who are members of a MLS can now provide more comprehensive information to their customers than any non-Realtor website can feature. They can now offer a data feed of all MLS listing information to their clients via a Virtual Office Website (VOW).

Consumers are hungry for more and more real estate information. They are not only looking for active data, but any information that will help them get a better gauge on the local real estate market and neighborhoods they are interested in. They are looking for as much accurate, comprehensive and current information available.

Who better to serve their information needs than Realtor? The MLS has the greatest depth of real estate information available anywhere. VOWs can help the industry capitalize on the strength of MLS and Property databases. They can help keep Realtors at the center of the real estate transaction instead of encouraging consumers to go to third party non-Realtor? websites for their real estate search needs.

What is a VOW?

The simplest definition of a VOW is a broker website that allows consumers to access all of the non-confidential information in the MLS after registering with a Realtor.

Virtual Office Websites are really not much different from the websites that brokers offer to consumers today. There are only two significant differences – more data fields and a registration requirement.

More Data Fields

The rules and regulations pertaining to the display of listing information on broker websites across the country vary from market to market. Some markets have long permitted the display of deeper data fields like Sold Listings, Listing History, Tax Data, Price per Square Foot, and Days on Market. However, many markets did not allow this information to be displayed online. Only a member agent or broker could access that level of data by signing into the MLS and delivering the information to their client.

Suffice it to say that MLSs are now required to provide a data feed of all MLS information to any member broker for display through VOWs with a few exceptions:

Expired, withdrawn, or pending Listings
Compensation offered to other MLS Participants
Type of Listing Agreement – i.e. exclusive agency
Seller/Occupants name and contact information
Showing instructions
Sold Data – but only in those states like Texas where that information is not considered part of the public record. If the information is public according to your state law, then Sold Data must be included for display on VOW.

Registration Requirement

The settlement between the DOJ and NAR recognized that access to this level of real estate information should only be permitted when there is an expressed working relationship between a consumer and a Realtor. To access a VOW, the consumer is required to register, agree to the terms of use, and agree they are entering in a lawful broker-consumer relationship (broker-consumer relationship as defined by state law). To satisfy the registration requirements, the consumer must provide their name and a valid e-mail address. The password must also expire on a specified date, and the broker must keep the registration information of that consumer for 180 days after expiration.

To satisfy the lawful broker-consumer relationship, the consumer must click to agree to the terms of use, and verify that they will not use the data for any commercial use, and confirm that they have a bona fide interest in the purchase, sale or lease of real estate of the type being offered through the VOW. Nobody – broker, consumer, or the website provider may redistribute any of the information to any third party.

How will VOWs change the agent-customer relationship

With the evolution of Internet Data Exchange (IDX) and literally millions of real estate websites, the consumer has had access to a significant number of sources of property information. VOWs will allow brokers, and possibly agents in markets where agents have been included in VOW policies, to once again place themselves at the center of the consumer’s property search experience.

A broker’s VOW will offer consumers the most comprehensive, accurate and timely real estate information available.

Because of the quality of information offered to consumers through VOWs, customers will be less likely to spend much time on non-broker websites offering less listing information. In mature VOW markets like San Francisco, more than 50% of all transactions were to registered VOW consumers.

WAV Group Consumer research uncovered a very strong desire for consumers to participate in VOW websites. Both buyers and sellers value the depth of information available to watch market trends and find the right home. Home sellers using VOWs are pricing their homes more realistically. Buyers using VOWs are working closely with their agents reviewing listings that match their search criteria all under the supportive hand of their real estate professional.

The new challenge will be to stay attuned to the behavior of your client as they perform their research using your VOW.

Historically agents have prepared a specific set of information for their buyers and sellers to review in their decision making process. The new process will be more conversational – online and offline. The customer is likely to be doing as much or more research as their agent. This will challenge agents to be as well informed as their clients. A good VOW product will support the agent by providing visibility into the behavior of their customer.

Virtual Office Websites are one of the most valuable tools a real estate professional can use today to provide the depth of information today’s real estate consumer is looking for.

This is the first part of a series of articles on Virtual Office Websites, or VOW. To view the rest of the series you can go to http://waves.wavgroup.com or register at http://www.wavgroup.com. The series will describe how VOW’s can help real estate professionals secure new clients, work more effectively with buyers and sellers and help secure clients for life.

Selecting your AVP or VOW website vendor

Make sure that the VOW product you select for your business gives you all of the tools to stay in touch with your client. When do they login? What properties did they view? Did they reject any properties? What properties did they ask questions about, or request a showing on.

Many of our MLS clients are now installing Listingbook because they have a very well established, time-tested VOW product with patented client management capabilities. Agents using a Listingbook VOW solution say they use the automated tools to nurture relationships with their clients.

Victor Lund is a Partner with WAV Group. For more information, visit http://wavgroup.com/.

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